It’s almost that time of year again: the consumers’ holiday. The time of year when churches are once again full of people. The time of year when lights are strung and the giddy holiday tunes float above the commotion of last minute shopping. The line “and it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” is repeated in households, movies and books in remembrance of the story of the Christ.
This season is a reminder of the day that changed the world. Though it’s common belief that Jesus’s birth took place in Bethlehem on December 25 thousands of years ago, this idea doesn't make a lot of sense. We know that the birth of Jesus took place around the time of the census, which is believed to have occurred during the mildest part of the fall so that travelers didn’t have to journey to their hometowns during the cold winter or blistering hot summer.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Jesus’s birth couldn’t have been during the winter; the shepherds wouldn’t be tending their flocks in the fields in the cold. Look around you at this time of the year. What reason is there to be in a field? Everything is dead. There is nothing for sheep to feed on. During the winter, the sheep would be cozy in their stables and the shepherds would be warm in their homes.
The wise men were astronomers, mathematicians, engineers and generally smart and knowledgeable men.
In the traditional nativity, a trio of wise men is present, usually bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Though the Magi came bearing three gifts we know of, the Bible doesn’t specify exactly how many Magi there were. There could have been any number of Magi above two, though the number probably wasn’t over ten because of logistical challenges such as travel time and resources presented by a trip of that length.
Growing up, I believed that the wise men came and visited Mary, Joseph and infant Jesus in the lowly stable the night of his birth. But both Matthew and Mark state that after Jesus was born, the wise men appeared before King Herod in Jerusalem (which isn’t more than a 6-mile trek to Bethlehem that can be completed in less than a day). The threat of a new king infuriated the jealous Herod, so he interrogated the wise men and found out as much about the star, and what it meant about the Child, as he could from the oblivious yet willingly honest Magi. He instructed them to return to him after their Bethlehem visit to inform him of what they found.
When the Magi didn’t return, Herod ordered that all the male children two years and younger be murdered. He had a good amount of knowledge from what the men had told him to approximate Jesus’s age. He wasn’t acting unintelligibly. The fact that Herod ordered the murder of baby boys in such a large age range implies that the Magi visited Jesus several months or more after he was born. Jesus is also referred to as a young child by both Matthew and Mark after the wise men are referenced in the Bible.
Every part of Jesus’s birth story is extraordinary. He truly is the reason for the season because of his decision to embrace humanity and the price he paid for each one of us. We like to think we know what happened at His birth, but the popular story includes a lot of misconceptions. Though the story we know and believe might not be perfectly correct, Jesus honors the faith that we put in what we do believe. The details aren’t as important as it is to recognize the option of eternal life that he gave us. That gift is no myth.
Kasondra Reel is a senior studying nursing.